REPORT: Thunder over South Georgia 2017

Thunder over South Georgia, also known as the Moody AFB Open House, is a smaller airshow than most but there lies its appeal. It is a much more intimate show and there was really not a bad viewing angle anywhere. Again, being a smaller show, the crowd, parking, and general organization was top notch. I did not have an opportunity to sample or price the vendor wares; however, I did not see long lines at any booth. The weather was great and the flying was top notch.

The flightline was full of modern aircraft from the Air Force and vintage aircraft and the static displays were well thought out. Given the size of the flightline, none of the larger Air Force transports were present. The largest aircraft on the line was a USAF HC-130 Hercules but there was still a nice variety of aircraft to see. The flying display was similarly pleasing, starting with a jump by the Air Force Academy parachute team, the Wings of Blue, who unfurled an American flag while the National Anthem was played. The Air Force cadets were scheduled to jump later in the show but unfortunately their C-130 was damaged by a bird strike; therefore, the segment was cancelled on Saturday.

This show was an Air Force open house, and included two segments which I have really grown to appreciate. The first segment. the USAF Heritage Flight, is a staple event featuring in this instance a P- 51D Mustang. Moody is the home of the Flying Tigers of the 74th Fighter Squadron, and the Tiger Sharks of the 75th Fighter Squadron. They both fly the A-10C Thunderbolt II. Naturally, A-10Cs flanked the P-51 as it flew over. The other staple feature of Air Force shows includes a demonstration of missions by various units on the base. The 347th Rescue Group demonstrated it’s motto of “Attack, Rescue, and Prevail”. The combat scenario portrayed a service member that had been critically wounded on the battlefield and needed immediate medical attention. This demonstration was a coordinated exercise featuring different types of aircraft: A-10C Thunderbolts, HH-60 Pave Hawks and a C-130 Hercules. The HH-60G crew fast roped down to the injured service member, assessed his condition, and extracted him, while two A-10s flew a race track cover pattern in close air support. Upon extraction the HH-60s simulated aerial refueling with a C-130.

Not to be out done by the Air Force, there was some great stick and rudder performances by other performers. Kent Pietsch and the Jelly Belly team demonstrated flying hi-jinks complete with parts falling off the aircraft. I was also impressed by the flying of Gary Wright and his MX-2; It is very obvious once Gary starts putting the aircraft through it’s paces that the MX-2 is one powerful aircraft. At one point Gary put the plane 50 feet off the runway in high angle of attack configuration and flew along the display line sideways. This stunt was a true testament to the power of the Lycoming IO-540 engine as it puts out 260 horsepower.

Randy Ball brought his familiar MiG-17 and put it through it’s paces highlighting the speed and agility of the aircraft. The afterburner on this aircraft is impressive with it’s fiery tale. Randy also brought the aircraft low for a high speed pass at Mach .94. Further warbird action came from Bill Yoak, who treated the crowd to a performance with P-51D Mustang “Quicksilver”, his restored P-51D Mustang, and a beautiful bird it is! The performance is a true tribute to those who have come before us that served, sacrificed, and gave their all.

Not to be out done, the final act was the USAF Thunderbirds. Unfortunately, as the afternoon went on, a layer of broken cloud moved in at about 4,000 ft. This cloud layer forced the Thunderbirds to perform what is known as a “low show”. The team wasn’t able to perform their loops high bomb bursts, however the low show is not without its own excitement, such as the ever-popular sneak passes by the solo pilots. The team had the crowds’ attention with an echelon pass (or the like) during which one of the solo aircraft made a low and loud fast pass taking the crowd by complete surprise! I would by remiss if I did not mention the fine southern hospitality by the staff at Moody AFB. Everyone was very polite and most helpful. I would like to extend a special shout out thank you, to Captain Fratini,and Sargent Wolf in the Public Affairs office!

Raphael “Rafe” Smith is a life-long aviation enthusiast, private pilot, and real estate broker in Nashville, TN.